Saturday, April 7, 2012

Life, death, friendships and other ships.

There's a sickening jab that pierces your heart when you learn that an old friend has died. The pain is no less when the friend is someone you haven't seen in a long time. And the pain is no easier to process when you learn of their death a year after it happened.

John Krevey was a handyman for a landlord in Rhode Island. The landlord was an important figure in my life, yet years later, I find that I remember far more moments with John. And certainly the memories are more pleasant ones.

John had a gift for taking a complex, painful scenario and slapping a healthy layer of common sense on it, like slathering a sandwich with the right amount of crunchy peanut butter. And I always thought that no matter how difficult the problem, peanut butter can fix it, at least a little.

Case in point: My boyfriend's wannabe girlfriend gave my name and phone number to another guy in an effort to break up my relationship. I knew nothing of this until the potential blind date called me. I was stunned. Didn't know what to say to the guy. What kind of girl would do something so manipulative? What was I supposed to say to this guy she had used as her pawn? I fumbled through the phone call. Afterwards, I angrily told my boyfriend what this wannabe girlfriend had done. I think he shrugged or mumbled something. This led me to believe that the BF had actually encouraged the wannabe GF to set me up on a blind date to distract or get rid of me. I indignantly told the BF this was deceitful behavior and cruel to both me and the blind date.

Then I told John Krevey about it. John laughed.

"Now, see, here's what you should have told [the BF]," John said in his slow, casual voice, almost a drawl. "You should have said, 'Wow! I went out on a date with that guy and he was terrific! Really good-looking, funny, a great guy. I had the time of my life. Please tell [wannabe girlfriend] thank you. She really did me a favor.'"

It's not that John was devious by nature. But when he experienced devious people, he knew how to play their game, work around them or at least mess with them. For all his boyish looks and countrified charm, he was not phased by con artists. And he knew months before I did that I should break up with this worthless boyfriend and find someone honest, straight-forward and deserving of my affection. (I finally did and I'm married to him.)

This and other John Krevey encounters and snippets of wisdom have stayed with me over the years. So a few days ago, when I was zipping through some Google+ posts and saw somebody with a last name similar to Krevey, I spontaneously Googled John's name. I had done this several times in the past without finding him. This time, the auto-finish feature not only finished his name, it prompted obituary. Not a good sign.

Whereas once I tried and tried and could not find the guy, now the internet is swarming with hits for John R. Krevey. He became an electrician and started his own business, R2 Electric. He resurrected a rusty lightship, refurbished it and brought it to a Manhattan harbor, a process that took years to accomplish. Once there, he began a campaign to bring life back to a neighborhood that apparently used to look like something out of a Marlon Brando movie, On the Waterfront. John earned the respect and love of many mariners and New Yorkers. He deftly dealt with bureaucratic red tape and...well, con artists of a sort who didn't want him to have that boat there, let alone turn it into a floating restaurant. He nurtured the ambitions of one Reid Stowe, who achieved fame for his "1000 Days at Sea" voyage. He won local awards that he accepted in his "aw shucks" kind of voice. He married and had two children. And one week, when he took his grown son on a vacation to Santo Domingo, he died of a heart attack, leaving behind a devastated family, countless friends and a saddened community.

Fast forward a year. And I find out, all in the same minute, where John Krevey has been and what wonderful things he has been doing. And that he not only passed away, but has been gone for over a year. Okay, it's over and done, but the heart of a friend does not use logic in these matters to argue away the shock and grief. He is still my friend of long ago, as if no time had elapsed.

In my heart, this is the John Krevey for whom I bought a birthday cake. The man who kept a bicycle in his apartment. The man I painted rooms with and had many a philosophical discussion with.

"Look at this." John Krevey pointed to a hole made in a window shade from a decorative pull cord. "Now a cord like that is always going to leave a hole." He deftly retrieved a white plastic device resembling a wide money clip, about 1 1/2 x 3 inches, from his jeans pocket. "See, this is all you need." He quickly slipped the plastic clip onto the end of the window shade and centered it. Then he opened and closed the shade by grabbing the plastic clip. Next he slipped the plastic device to the right and it came off the shade. It left no marks on the shade, he pointed out. "You can take it with you and put it on any window shade." To my artsy decorator's eye, the gadget was plain and unremarkable. But its portable nature appealed to my nomadic soul. And John, who had a knack for seeing through complexity and b.s. of all kinds, had impressed upon me the pragmatism of it.

After almost a year of being in John's acquaintance, I left Rhode Island. I tried to stay in touch with most of my friends, but I lost contact with John.

"Whatever happened to John Krevey?" I asked my ex-boyfriend within three months of moving away. "He didn't answer the letter I sent him."

"He went home," the ex-boyfriend told me.

Just that. He went home. Where? His home state? What town? Did he have an address? Where is he working? No information. My heart sank. Yet again, my so-called boyfriend had let me down. He had let John Krevey slip from both of our lives and now we had no way to find him. He had skittered away taking his plastic window shade pull, his bicycle and his no-nonsense philosophy with him. I suspected I would never see him again. This proved to be correct.

Maybe one day, one of John Krevey's friends will read this and smile. Yeah, that was him. That slow, unassuming speech of his that she describes...yes, I remember that. She writes about pulling that window shade pull out of his jeans pocket. I wonder if his jeans were rolled up at the bottom?

I am smiling as you think this. I envision those rolled up jeans as he ambles towards me with his bow-legged walk. I see him mentally churning a little soliloquy. He shoves one hand in a front jeans pocket and shifts his weight to one side. A boyish grin, something like that of Harrison Ford.

I found this video of him accepting an award.  I watch in silence, marveling at how he looks the same.  Then I whisper, "You were right, John. Those were good window shade pulls. John Lennon was more talented than Paul McCartney. Not so sure about the Elvis stuff. There are some paint colors you should not use in a room because they just don't make sense. My boyfriend in Rhode Island was an absolute jerk. Rusty ships are worth saving. Red tape is worth fighting."

Update July 9, 2014: I am thinking about John a lot today and feeling down.  But I realize that I was lucky to have known him.  He was unique.  And I don't think I've met terribly many unique people over the years.  Better to have known him and lost him than never to have known him. 

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